Body basic: Hamstring

Author: Canadian Living


Body basic: Hamstring

Kick up your heels for hamstring strength, stability, better balance and shapely thighs. You may not notice what happens to your rear, but others certainly will!

The hamstring muscle group runs along the back of the thigh and is made up of three parts: the semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris muscles. Together they allow you to straighten your leg at the hip and bend your knee.

You need strong hamstrings to perform everyday activities in which you balance on one leg while you lift the other, such as climbing stairs. Sports such as walking, running, cycling and climbing also require strong hamstrings. Women have an extra reason to strengthen them: because they have wider pelvises than men, they're at greater risk for muscle weakness in their hips and upper thighs, which stresses the weightbearing hip and knee joints and increases their risk of injury. When the hamstrings are strong, they help balance the pelvis and lower back, which in turn strengthens the hip and knee joints and prevents strain or injury.

A fabulous and convenient way to train the back of the thigh, the standing hamstring curl is ideal for women of all ages. It helps shape up the hamstrings while also strengthening the core muscles (abdominals and lower back), buttocks, inner and outer thighs and calf muscles. And by training the hamstrings while you stand, you will automatically strengthen a host of other leg muscles, from the hip to the knee to the ankle. If you are just starting out or you have never tried this exercise before, I recommend that you begin without any external resistance (such as a resistance tube).

Standing hamstring curl
Stand tall and place your hands on a counter or the back of a chair for balance and to keep your hips level. Extend your right leg back and lift your heel off the floor. Keep your toe on the floor until you get your balance. Squeeze your buttocks, pull your abdominals in and your shoulders back, and bend your left supporting knee slightly. Exhale as you lift your heel slowly up until it's level with your knee, keeping your ankle flexed so your toes point at the floor. Pause. Inhale. Exhale as you lower your foot until your toes lightly touch the floor (for a greater challenge, don't let your toes touch the floor).

Remember to keep your thigh pushed back and your hips straight for best results. You'll feel the effort both in your buttocks and down the backs of your thighs.

Repetitions and sets
Perform 15 repetitions per leg, then work up to two or three sets of 10 repetitions each. Once you've mastered the exercise, try it with your hands resting on your hips to increase your balance. When you can perform three sets of 10 repetitions easily on each leg, add extra resistance using a resistance tube.

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Body basic: Hamstring